What is a Fungal Infection?

A fungal infection is caused by germs called fungi.

Fungi are multi-cell (made of many cells), plant-like organisms. Examples include mushrooms, mold, and mildew.

But unlike other plants, fungi cannot get their food from soil, water, and air. Instead, they get their nutrition from plants, animals, and people.

Fungi typically thrive in warm, moist places, like between the toes, in the groin, and under the breasts, causing a fungal infection.

Only about half of fungi are actually harmful. And, you're more prone to get a fungal infection if you have a weakened immune system, or if you take antibiotics.

 

Types of Fungal Infections

Warmth and dampness create ideal environments for fungus, which is especially why fungal infections are so common in the summer.

Common fungal infections of the skin include:

  • ringworm
  • athlete's foot
  • jock itch 

These all fall under the group of diseases known as tinea, which refers to fungal infections of the skin. While generally not serious, these infections can cause discomfort. They are typically spread by touching an infected person or pet, or from damp surfaces like shower or locker room floors.

Ringworm

Despite its name, ringworm has nothing do to with worms. A ringworm diagnosis does not mean that you have worms crawling around under your skin.

The name is inspired from the rash that resembles small round, reddish rings or patches on the skin. The patches are often redder around the outside, with normal skin tone in the center, resembling a ring.

The fungus that causes ringworm thrive in warm, moist areas, and are most likely to occur from sweating or from minor injuries to your skin, scalp, or nails.  

Ringworm is most common in children, and it can return multiple times. It is commonly treated with over-the-counter antifungal ointments, shampoos, and creams.

Ringworm treatment may also require an oral antifungal medication, depending on the severity of the infection. Ringworm typically clears up within four weeks once treated. However, if you notice signs of swelling or worsening of the red patches, call your doctor. 

Tips to Prevent Ringworm:

  • Skin. Keep your skin and feet clean and dry.
  • Scalp. Shampoo regularly, especially after haircuts.
  • Hygiene. Never share clothing, towels, hairbrushes, combs, headgear, or other personal hygiene items. And after use, be sure to thoroughly clean and dry.
  • Feet. Wear sandals or shoes at gyms, locker rooms, and public pools.
  • Pets. Avoid touching pets with bald spots, a classic symptom of ringworm in animals.

 

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection that affects the spaces between the toes.

Sweaty feet, not drying feet well after swimming or bathing, tight shoes and socks that offer no ventilation, and a warm climate all provide the perfect opportunities for the fungus that causes athlete's foot to grow and spread.

Walking barefoot in place like public showers, swimming pools, and locker rooms can also contribute the growth of athlete's foot.

Treatments for athlete's foot typically include over-the-counter antifungal creams. Prescription medicines might be needed for more serious infections. While these treatments usually clear up the infection within two to four weeks, athlete's foot can come back.

Tips to Prevent Athlete's Foot:

  • Feet. Wash your feet daily and thoroughly, especially in between your toes.
  • Shoes. Wear shower shoes or flip flops when using a public pool, shower, or locker room. Also, avoid tight footwear.
  • Socks. Wear clean, cotton socks. Change them daily or more frequently if they get damp. Avoid synthetic materials, which take moisture away from your feet. Opt for naturals like cotton or wool.
  • Hygiene. Never share clothes, towels, and shoes.
    • Remember: certain nail products can damage the nail or cuticle, making the nail more prone to infection.
  • Toenails. Keep your toenails clean and clipped short.

 

Jock Itch

Jock itch is a fungal infection that affects the genital area, inner thighs, and buttocks. It causes an itchy, red, sometimes ring-shaped rash. It gets its name since many athletes are prone to the infection from excessive sweating. But anyone — athlete or not — can get jock itch.

Although often uncomfortable and bothersome, jock itch usually isn't serious, though it could potentially be more serious for people with weakened immune systems.

To treat jock itch, keep your groin area clean. Apply topical antifungal medications, which usually work to treat jock itch within a couple of weeks.

For more serious cases, antibiotics may be needed to treat bacterial infections. These can occur, in addition to the fungal infection, from scratching the affected area.

Tips to Prevent Jock Itch:

  • Skin. Keep your skin around the genitals clean and dry.
  • Clothes. Don't wear clothing that rubs and irritates this area. Choose loose-fitting underwear.
    • Laundry. Wash all athletic clothes and supportive gear and garments frequently.
    • Hygiene. If you're susceptible to jock itch, consider applying antifungal powders after bathing.